18 April 2014 – The Guardian
Every Good Friday for more than a century after Lingfield Park opened its doors in 1890 until 18 April 2014, the track was locked and silent on the first afternoon of the Easter holiday. What a waste. The first All-Weather Championships card at the Surrey track, the first British meeting ever staged on Good Friday, brought a capacity crowd to the course and a buzz to the enclosures that will not be matched until the same day next year, as 8,700 spectators watched a card that reached its climax with a narrow victory for Grandeur, the favourite, in the Coral Easter Classic.
The decision by the British Horseracing Authority last year to allow racing on this day did not receive an unqualified welcome from all sectors of the sport, not least amid fears that the annual Open days at Lambourn and Middleham, which raise significant amounts for racing charities, could suffer as a result. Both events were still well supported on Friday, however, while at Lingfield the soundtrack for the afternoon was the constant, gladdening noise of thousands of people having fun.
Racing is in the entertainment business and the potential audience for a track such as Lingfield, in the Home Counties commuter belt and less than an hour from London by train, is immense. The vast majority of its meetings are midweek cards for a different audience, the one in Britain’s betting shops, but, on a day when most of its potential customers were free to attend, Lingfield proved that racing on an artificial surface can pull in a sellout crowd of punters through the turnstiles, too.
The apprentice Cam Hardie had the honour of winning the first race to be run on Good Friday in Britain as Viewpoint took the opening handicap, 25 minutes before Musselburgh staged the first in Scotland. The next five races on the card were each worth £93,000 to the winner, before Grandeur and Ryan Moore earned £124,500 for his connections in the afternoon’s showpiece event.
Moore was joined on the list of winners by two more of the weighing room’s most successful riders. Paul Hanagan, like Moore a former champion jockey, rode a double on Alben Star in the Sprint and the classy Ertijaal, a potential contender for the Jersey Stakes at Royal Ascot in June, while James Doyle, who will partner Kingman, the favourite, in next month’s 2,000 Guineas, took the All-Weather Mile on Roger Charlton’s Captain Cat.
Doyle’s success was a fine advertisement for the judgment and self-assurance that earned him the role of Prince Khalid Abdullah’s retained rider last year, as he sat well off the fierce pace, confident that the jockeys in front had gone too fast, before sweeping down the middle of the track to win by just over a length.
Grandeur’s success provided the ideal conclusion, however, as he was the third winning favourite on the day and the best horse in the race on ratings, but was still made to work for victory by Dick Doughtywylie. The runner-up went too hard in front in the Winter Derby last month but this time the race unfolded ideally for William Buick’s mount and he was able to kick for home at the top of the straight. He opened up a useful lead, but it was still not quite enough to hold off Grandeur, who joined him inside the final furlong before staying on strongly to win by a head.
Grandeur is now likely to head to Belmont Park in New York to contest Graded events on turf. “He was entitled to win,” Jeremy Noseda, his trainer, said. “That was the galling thing when everything went wrong on Winter Derby day, he was the best horse in the race and got beaten. Today I came here believing I had the best horse in the race and he’s won.
“I had my doubts about racing on Good Friday, but if you’re going to race on Good Friday, you need to do what Lingfield has done and put up a good day’s racing with good prize money. It’s breaking with tradition but we’re in the entertainment business and you can see the huge crowd that is here today. That’s what our sport depends on. All the sceptics can have no answer, this is a success and well done to them for putting it on.”
The capacity crowd for Friday’s card was the biggest at Lingfield for many years but also one that the track will hope to build still further in the seasons to come.
“What we set out to do about a year ago was to prove that all-weather racing is about competitive racing and is an important part of the industry,” Tony Kelly, managing director of ARC, which owns Lingfield, said.
“Most of the world’s best races are run on artificial surfaces. That is our ambition and we feel there are no boundaries. We want to push this and compete with the big races in the rest of the world.”